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Tuesday 23 September K.O. 19:45



Britannia Stadium | 1st May 2010 15:00

Stoke City v Everton

Everton's hopes of ending a remarkable second-half of the season with European qualification have been extinguished in controversial fashion.

The Blues needed to win their final away game of the season but, instead, were frustrated in a goalless draw at Stoke - having had a 73rd minute goal from Phil Jagielka ruled out by Howard Webb.

It remains unclear why the defender's headed strike was not permitted to stand. As a result, the game ended in stalemate.

The result means David Moyes' side have now equalled their Premier league record of consecutive games unbeaten, with their last defeat coming 10 games ago at Spurs.

But all three points were needed if Everton were to maintain a mathematical chance of leap-frogging Liverpool to finish in seventh - the final spot available for Europa League qualification.

It means that the final game of the season at home to Portsmouth next week will have little riding on it, other than the chance to set a new record for consecutive league games unbeaten.

But, having entered the second half of the season with just 22 points to their name, there is little doubt that Everton's efforts to force their way back into the chase for Europe deserve rich praise.

Leon OsmanLeon Osman returns to the side in place of the injured Steven Pienaar

That will be the fillip on a day when the linesman's flag proved decisive. It was the assistant referee who denied Jagielka and who left the Everton players dumb-founded after the England international had risen at the back post to head home Mikel Arteta's pinpoint corner.

The Everton defender had been employed at right-back for the contest and acquitted himself well in what, for large parts, was an uninspiring contest.

Indeed, it was a subdued opening 45 matches that offered little of note.

The best chances fell the way of Victor Anichebe - back in the starting line-up at the expense of Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

He was inches from connecting to a centre by Leighton Baines and was then denied by a decent stop from Asmir Begovic during an otherwise low-key opening 23 minutes for both sides. Buoyed by that effort, a similar shot from distance flashed wide on 33 minutes. Leighton Baines had a fierce goalbound drive blocked as the half drew to a close, whilst at the other end a weak effort from Ricardo Fuller that was easily gathered by Tim Howard was all the home side could muster.

Nevertheless, the home side should have taken the lead within minutes of the second half getting underway. A swift attacking move culminated with Matt Etherington providing a low cross for the unmarked Rory Delap but somehow the long-throw specialist contrived to shoot wide from 10 yards out.

The Toffees gathered themselves and continued to look the side most likely to break the deadlock. Leon Osman looked a little rusty when he mis-cued an attempted volley and on the follow-up Jagielka's effort was no problem for Begovic.

Leighton Baines and Ricardo FullerLeighton Baines and Ricardo Fuller

Anichebe tested the Stoke keeper with an audacious effort from a tight angle and then curled an effort agonisingly wide as the home goal came under increasing pressure.

With 20 minutes remaining the Goodison chief made a double switch - introducing Yakubu and Jack Rodwell in place of Osman and Saha.

Within minutes Everton had found the back of the net - Phil Jagielka heading in at the back post from a Mikel Arteta corner. It was ruled out by the assistant referee, who flagged claiming the Spaniard's centre had swung out of play.

Fuller went close to adding to Everton's ire with a drive that sailed inches over as the clock ticked down.

Everton continued to press though but the chances just would not materialise against an organised Stoke side.

And so Everton go into the final game knowing they will finish eighth. It is a frustrating end to a season that, in its second half, has promised so much.

But there is little doubt optimism for the 2010/11 is fully justified. This group of players have proved that with victories over Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea in recent months.



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